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For a graphic design for a client I want to render the words "There is no God but the God" into Chinese in as few characters as possible.

It is of course a translation of the Islamic "La Ilaha Illallah" ("There is no God but the God") . And whereas Muslims say "万物非主,唯有真主", that's 8 characters long and a huge statement and not easy to fit in my clients design, so I came up with this instead:

無神除神

Notes:

I chose for "God" despite other names being more commonly used in Abrahamic Religions.

The Arabic word Ilah (root of Ilaha and Illallah in the phrase "La Ilaha Illallah") is a generic word for God in Arabic, hence my choice of 神 over other words like 主 or 帝 which are more specific and would be better translations of the Arabic word "Rabb" ("Lord") I'm my opinion.

I know from this question that 神 is also (if not commonly) used for the Abrahamic God. To quote the answer:

"Christian prayers (esp the older translations) refer to god as 主 or 神 (I've seen hand-copied Christian prayers that use both);but 神 also means "spirit" (if you think of "the holy spirit", it makes sense that 神 is used to refer to god). However, unlike 上帝, the character 神 alone doesn't unambiguously mean "god"."

While 神 "doesn't unambiguously mean "god"" I think, in the context of the phrase "無神除神" it is clear enough.

My reason for choosing 神 came from this site, where it is said (under Terminology):

In Chinese language there is a terminological distinction between 神 shén, 帝 dì and 仙 xiān. Although the usage of the former two is sometimes blurred, it corresponds to the distinction in Western cultures between "god" and "deity", Latin genius (meaning a generative principle, "spirit") and deus or divus; dì, sometimes translated as "thearch", implies a manifested or incarnate "godly" power.

So is 無神除神 grammatical correct and good as a translation of the Arabic "La Ilaha Illallah" ("There is no God but the God") for the purpose of my small graphic design?

  • Well, (1) your translation to English is not correct; it sounds like you're trying to translate Arabic literally to English. In English it should be There is no god but God* (note capitilisation). (2) I highly suggest not trying to capture the structure of "La Ilaha Illallah" in translation if you're trying to restrict yourself to 4 characters. The difference between "Ilah" and "Allah" is only captured by the difference between 主 and 真主, as Chinese doesn't have the equivalent to English The or Arabic al-. – droooze Jan 11 at 4:32
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So is 無神除神 grammatical correct and good as a translation of the Arabic "La Ilaha Illallah" ("There is no God but the God")

No to both

"There is no God but the God" should be "There is no god but God"

The shortened form of "除了(真)神之外沒有神" should be "除神沒神". But 除 also mean remove, so "除神沒神" could mean "remove God and there will be no God", Therefore, it is not a clear translation for "There is no god but God"

"神外無神" (Beside God, there's no god) is a better translation

"神外無神" Short for "真" (Beside the one true God, there's no other gods)

Seems like there is an existent translation '認主獨一' for "La Ilaha Illallah" in mainland China.

Since it is for an original design, using an existent official translation actually remove the most important creative element -- the 'creative phrasing'

As a graphic designer myself, I would have two choices-- one is follow the existent translation, make it a simple 'font' creating project; another is treat it as an original design and 'create' a new phrase. I would choose option 2

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    Omg. "remove God and there will be no God". Thanks ! Big mistake that would've been ! – Johan88 Jan 11 at 3:47
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    Since Chinese language doesn't have capitalization ( We can tell 'The God' is not 'the gods' in English ), I would either print the first 神 in bolder style or add a tiny 真 within it – Tang Ho Jan 11 at 14:39
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    @Johan88 真神外無神 is weird. .Come to think of it, "認主獨一" could be explained as 認主(recognize my lord) (is) 獨一(the one and only). It is not that bad a translation, just need to read it the right way. – Tang Ho Jan 12 at 7:41
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    @Johan88 神外無神 is not weird. It is more like a riddle. -- If no '神' beside '神' , then the answer can only be 'there's only one God' – Tang Ho Jan 12 at 8:06
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    @Johan88 Yes, In my opinion 神外無神 (beside God, there is no god) is very close to a literal translation of 'There is no god but God' . – Tang Ho Jan 12 at 10:13
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This looks really weird, I can't even guess what 無神除神 means before reading your explanation.

I think the main problem is that, 除, when used alone, usually means get rid of rather than except. So the whole phrase become 'no god and get rid of god'.

As far as I know, there's already a 4-character phrase with similar meaning 認主獨一. I'm not sure if that fits your need.

  • Hahaha. The world of Google translate. Thanks so much ! I was not aware of that phrase. How would you translate it to English? – Johan88 Jan 11 at 4:28
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    @Johan88 "認主獨一" means "recognize only one single master" – Tang Ho Jan 11 at 4:32
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    "認主獨一" = "獨認一主" (only recognize one master), and "獨認一主" is a grammatically proper sentence – Tang Ho Jan 11 at 4:55
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    I noticed that 認主獨一 is written at a mosque I went to in Tianjin. – Becky 李蓓 Jan 11 at 6:32
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    @Johan88 Since it is for an original design, using an existent official translation actually remove the most important creative element -- the 'creative phrasing' . As a graphic designer myself, I would have two choices-- one is follow the existent translation, make it a simple 'font' creating project; another is treat it as an original design and 'create' a new phrase. I would choose option 2 – Tang Ho Jan 11 at 8:09
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  • 萬物非主,唯有真主 is eight characters long (not including the comma) and it's too long.
  • You're looking for a four character replacement.

Why not just go with:

唯有真主


Chinese has a nice feature where elliptical phrases are many and frequently used.

Take the phrase 泥菩萨过江——自身难保 for instance, where 自身难保 is often dropped - because the intended meaning is known to most. See these excerpts:

  • 但如今的委內瑞拉也是「泥菩薩過江」

  • 泡沫黨員便秉持著泥菩薩過江的心態

  • 他們已經泥菩薩過江了


唯有真主 can also be used in a similar manner.

Even without the beginning of the phrase (萬物非主), the meaning and connotations are still held intact with the ending 唯有真主, even by itself.

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天外無天 or 唯一真神

you can replace 天 with 神, 真神 with 真主.

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    天外無天 means "there's no world beyond this world" If it is the case, then there can't be any God. And this concept has nothing to do with the original phrase ; 唯一真神 (the only true God) only describe half of "There is no God but the God" – Tang Ho Jan 11 at 8:27

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